City Council gives thumbs up to UTC mall redevelopment and expansion

San Diego City Council voted 7-1 Tuesday, July 26, with Sixth District Councilwoman Donna Frye dissenting, in favor of the proposed large-scale, long-term redevelopment of Westfield UTC’s shopping center.

Westfield’s vision for the first major revitalization of the UTC shopping center in more than two decades would add approximately 750,000 square feet of retail space for new and remodeled anchor stores, a state-of-the-art cinema and more than 150 new specialty shops and boutiques.

The “reimagined” regional mall would also add new public outdoor plazas, upgrade parking, provide a variety of residential opportunities - including a high-rise tower and affordable housing - and create a new regional transit center with a future link to the trolley. As proposed, Westfield’s vision could represent an investment in excess of $900 million. If approved, it is estimated the redevelopment would take five years to complete. Westfield is also touting its “new UTC” as a national model for use of energy-sustainable practices, designs and materials.

Council President Scott Peters voiced strong support for the project, but attached a laundry list of detailed conditions he expects developers to comply with, right down to design specifications for tree planter sizes.

“This mall is a relic of the ‘70s, totally dependent on the automobile,” said Peters in casting his vote. “The vision here is to move away from that. This is a good place to start at UTC.”

Frye said she had too many concerns to sanction the mall redevelopment project as proposed. “I’m concerned about putting more density into that area (UC),” she said. “I’m also not comfortable with the (environmental) mitigation.”

District 7 Councilman Jim Madaffer said UTC mall’s redevelopment is “a model for future development in San Diego.”

Councilwoman Toni Atkins representing District 3 said she was concerned, in particular, about traffic impacts from the mall which will contribute to already congested freeways in the area of the mall. “Traffic is a huge issue,” she said. “But traffic is a regional problem, one we have to keep working on.”

Second District Councilman Brian Maienschein, who grew up in Rancho Bernardo, said UTC mall was the nearest one to him when he was a youth. “It hasn’t undergone much of a facelift in that time,” he said. “I’m also impressed by developers (Westfield’s) efforts on recycling and energy usage.”

District 8 Councilman Ben Hueso said it’s always difficult to decide on issues where there are clearly two opposed sides, as in this case. “But I’ve got an idea what the UC community wants for their neighborhood,” he said. “I think this future-oriented project which will provide mass transit will end up making this a better neighborhood.”

Speaking against UTC mall’s redevelopment, George Lattimer, a real estate developer and investor and former chairman of University City Planning Group, said the project, as proposed, would add greatly to already congested highways and set a bad precedent opening the floodgates for other large malls in UTC to follow suit with expansion projects. He said money would be more wisely spent on expanding high-tech companies on Torrey Pines Mesa, which would have a positive impact on the local economy without the huge traffic disruptions a much larger UTC mall will bring.